The Hippo


Jun 17, 2019








The Seacoast Repertory Theatre presents Little Women this August. Ben Bagley photo.

See Little Women

Where: Seacoast Repertory Theatre, 125 Bow St., Portsmouth
When: Aug. 5 through Aug. 28, with shows Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
Contact:, 433-4472
Admission: $14-$38, depending on the night

Little Women, big heart
Seacoast Rep’s next production brings iconic novel to the stage

By Kelly Sennott

The Seacoast Repertory Theatre team needed something classic and old-school to contrast with its June and July production of Reefer Madness, so members asked audiences to choose the August show from a few choices: Carousel, The Secret Garden, Oklahoma or Little Women

They chose the iconic Louisa May Alcott musical, to director Danielle Howard’s delight, and will perform it Aug. 5 through Aug. 28.
“It’s been a season of trying to offer things people may not have seen or heard of yet,” Rep Artistic Director Miles Burns said via phone. “[Little Women] is a familiar story. There’s so much Americana to it. And it has a beautiful score.”
The musical, based on Alcott’s semi-autobiographical 1869 novel of the same name, follows four sisters — Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy March — as they grow from teens into women during the Civil War in Concord, Massachusetts. It centers particularly on Jo March, an independent thinker, inspired by the author herself. The musical, with music by Jason Howland, lyrics by Mindi Dickstein and book by Allan Knee, hit Broadway in 2005.
“It’s a story about family and living your dreams. That made it attractive, and the fact that it has not been done a great deal in the area also made it buzzy,” Howard said via phone. “And it also features six women. … Of course, it’s a tour de force for the role of Jo March, but the other five women in the show have featured roles, and that is so rare, to come across a musical and to have female roles for an array of ages.”
The company found actors through New England Theater Conference auditions in March aimed at summer stock companies — including Liz Erardi, the Rep’s Jo March — and at local Seacoast auditions held at Portsmouth Public Media. All the casted March women are new to the Rep.
“We had a local callback and had 100 actors come, 90 percent of whom were auditioning for the women’s roles,” Howard said. “I think, definitely, Jo March is a dream role for many women. … She’s fierce and independent, and there’s something that I think is really interesting about that character, and exciting about that character. … I remember saying to my husband and colleague, John Berst, that at the end of the day, we really should have been exhausted, but we were invigorated.”
Burns said the company has been holding regular auditions for all mainstage shows and only recently began recruiting at NETC. It’s more work, as opposed to giving roles away or holding one audition for multiple productions, but it offers more choice.
“It’s important, I think, as an arts organization to give equal opportunity. Everything can’t go to the same five people,” Burns said. “We’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback about the talent we’ve had coming in.”
Howard recommended the play’s 10 actors read the book beforehand, and in the midst of rehearsals, cast and crew went on a targeted tour of the Concord house where the March girls lived to flesh out Alcott’s world.
“The story of Little Women is highly autobiographical,” Howard said. “So [the tour] was very inspiring. … It was like a 3-D immersion into the world.”
The visit inspired the design for the March parlor, courtesy of Szu-Feng Chen, which is where the heart of the story takes place, and the long, traditional gowns designed by James Weeden, who created the pieces specially for the show and has worked on productions like The Lion King and Phantom of the Opera. Some other props and costumes will help tell Jo’s stories, which pop off the page and take audiences into her imagination. 
Burns said that when he saw the first run-through, he told the cast, “I’m leaving here feeling like I can do anything!” 
Howard thinks it’s moving as well.
“There’s an incredible heart and fire to this production, to this story. You get a fierce heroine and an unconventional love story, heartache and joy, and you’ll ultimately leave feeling uplifted and maybe even a little fearless,” Howard said. 

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